Too Late

Raph al Guul

That’s what I get for refusing to run for trains. I finally reach the concrete platform and all I see are the fading lights of my connection to Zurich in the drizzle of the autumn rain. It’s no surprise that I didn’t want to go outside on a day as shitty as this one, but couldn’t I have overcome my Monday-morning-apathy just thirty seconds earlier? Ah well. Doesn’t matter anyway, I’ll get another train in – I check my watch – just about an hour. The hardest part is gonna be to figure out what to do meanwhile.

Staying out here is out of the question; this tiny train station of a town in the middle of nowhere doesn’t exactly offer pleasant accommodations when the weather’s like this. There’s not even a waiting room, just a bench beneath the open cover of the single-track platform. Well, I guess I could go to the little café that’s down the road where I had come from. I drive by that place every day on my bike and I’ve never been in there. Come to think of it, I don’t even know if it’s open at eight in the morning.

Determined to find out, I make my way there on foot, leaving my bike at the rack. It’s a five minute walk, I estimate, so that shouldn’t be a big deal. I’m wearing a hat, like I always do, even when it’s not raining. It keeps my head dry, but doesn’t do much to help against the thoroughly wet air soaking into my coat, shirt, and trousers as I walk. The pavement is wet, the sticky kind of wet that I imagine it would be twenty-four hours after a full-on deluge. It’s not overflowing with water and it’s not slippery; it’s more like the wetness had become part of the lasting properties of the pavement itself. Weird.

In my superfluous reflections I almost pass the café without noticing. Never having gone there before, I can’t say habit is making me stop at the place. Through the big window in the front I can see lights inside. It might be open after all, even though the dripping metal chairs in front of it give the establishment a sad, deserted look in the grey morning light. A bunch of squiggly letters above the door and the front window read “Café Bahnhof”. Being Swiss and all, I know that this means something like “Train Station Café”. Not very imaginative, I must say. A small panel is dangling off the door handle, indicating that the place is open to customers. I don’t feel like standing out here any further, so I step up and open the door. Ding! goes the bell.

It’s warm in here, almost a little unpleasant for someone coming from the cold wearing wet clothes. There are only a few tables in the cozy little room, I count six. They’re all empty, except for the one in the very back. A young woman is sitting there – I cannot really see her face, even though she is presenting a profile view. Eluding my sight, her head is resting in her palm, supported by her right elbow on the green table-cloth. Looks like she’s having tea. Good idea.

There’s a rack by the door, where I put my hat and the wet, way too thin coat that hadn’t served me all too well today – hopefully they’ll dry off a little bit. I sit down at a table in the front, right at the window, and promptly, an elderly lady appears from the back where there’s a little counter that I hadn’t even quite noticed until now. She makes her way over to my table and asks me in slow Bernese Swiss German what I would like. It feels like an odd dialect to encounter here. After a little back and forth concerning the different kinds of tea they offer, I decide on a simple order of black tea. I’m not in the mood for risks today – I already missed my train, lady luck doesn’t seem to be looking out for me. She’s probably still in bed, anyway.

Waiting for my tea, I’m sitting on the comfortably cushioned chair and I stare out the big window. Why do cafés have display windows? There’s only chairs to see, chairs and tables. And occasionally, people. I guess the point is that it should make the place look inviting. You pass by and you see someone enjoying their afternoon tea and suddenly you want to join them, have some of that yourself. But I’ve never seen anyone café-window-shopping, it occurs to me. But it’s probably a thing I simply don’t know about. Something the English, or maybe the French, pioneered.

Speaking of the English, look at this weather. It’s as if the sky hates us all. But the sky is a devious little fucker. Sure, he could just let all hell break loose and pour down on us. Nope. In a much more twisted, nefarious move, the rain is barely visible and the humidity seems to almost float in the air rather than fall down. It’s raining alright, but it’s a block of rain, not streaks. My own clothes are a testament to the harsh truth that if anybody steps out into this invisible wall of water, they might as well just take a dive into a lake. I marvel for a second at the elegance with which the sky toys with his helpless victims. Then my tea arrives and I get distracted from my musings.

Another glance at my watch; I have another fifty minutes or so, plenty of time. I let the little teapot sit for a while – I like my black tea on the verge of going bitter. In the corner of my eye I notice the silhouette of the woman in the back again. She seems unchanged, it doesn’t look like she is doing anything, really, but stare at the cup in front of her. Faint steam is climbing out of it, almost reaching her face, but fading first. I wonder why she is here and what she is doing. Maybe she’s waiting for someone? Or something, I guess, maybe she is passing time until her train arrives, as well. She’s just sitting there, hardly moving, though – seems a little odd. Then again, I just spent my own time sitting here, staring out the window myself, so I feel like a bit of a hypocrite. At any rate, I’m a little odd, too.

I pour my tea, no milk, no sugar – screw that. I’m a puristic tea drinker, or so I like to think. There’s something inherently fancy about a freshly poured cup of hot tea. It looks like a gateway to high society, or the indisputable proof that I have style for which I had been looking for so long. The woman – or maybe she’s a girl, I can’t quite tell with the way she’s obscuring my view of her face – picks up the spoon with her left hand and starts stirring her tea. I take a zip of mine and continue observing her. For a second or so, my mind’s warning lights begin to flash, telling me that I might be acting like a creep. Then, however, the taste of the strong tea takes a prominent place in my thoughts and flushes away the warning.

A warm, meandering sensation; little tree-tops at a horizon. Harsh and herbal, slightly overpowering. This taste is in itself liquid; there is something fleeting about it, even though all the while you think it’s lingering on for another second. Undiluted and light, the black tea is like consumable steam, pure flavor made palatable. I probably shouldn’t forget to swallow. For the first time, the woman is sitting up a little more straight and removes her right hand from her face. And what a pretty face that is, I think while she is moving the cup to her mouth and takes a gulp.

I guess it’s not the loud kind of face, not the one that screams beauty at you; maybe I wouldn’t even notice her if there were other people around for her face to blend in and fade away. But maybe that’s what’s alluring about it. That you don’t usually see that kind of face, that you miss it in the noise of the crowd. Gracile lines make up her cheeks and nose and lips; it’s a quiet, even fragile-looking face, framed inconspicuously by her pitch-black hair which she tied into a pony-tail at the back. Yeah, I confirm my own first assessment, pretty alright.

Turns out my cup is already empty, so I pour some more. The pot probably has one more charge left after that, which should work out fine, seeing as I have another thirty minutes – a little less maybe. Don’t forget to factor in time to get back to the actual track. Huh. The woman, I guess she’s about 25 years old, possibly a tad younger, has taken out a handkerchief and blew her pretty nose. Now, that’s not what I find peculiar; it is rather that after that, she takes the dry part of the cloth and moves it along the side of her cheek. Is she crying, maybe? Once more my mind reminds me that I’m being fairly creepy and that this is not a good situation for being creepy. If she really is removing tears from her face, she’s probably going to instinctively look around afterwards. Immediately, I look down at my table and try to make the impression of meditating over the tea.

I don’t know if she looked – or if she’s still looking, for that matter. Awkwardly, I finish my cup – more lavender pine trees far off in the distance – and pour the final one. What if she really is crying? What might have happened? Should I go over to say something? Pff. Say what? “Hey there, from where I’m sitting it looks like you’re sad.” Yeah right. Then again, if she  is crying, then I probably should offer my help. I hate being sad, but I hate it even more feeling all alone in such a situation. Isn’t it my obligation as the person who noticed to say something? To offer my help, whatever that may be – just a little bit of quiet company, maybe. The proverbial shoulder to cry on? Would I myself talk to a stranger when I’m sad? Depends on what made me sad, I guess – and how sad, probably.

I dare looking up again, peeking over at the young woman with the pretty face. I couldn’t tell if that face looks sad and if there are tears on it. A little too far away to be sure, I’d say. If I go over there when she’s not even actually sad, what a fool would I be making of myself. “Uhm, hi, so I’ve been staring at you this whole time and I’m wondering if you’re sad. Don’t worry, I’m not a stalker, okay?” Laughable. I slurp the last bit of my tea. The last gulp is one that I always found scented with a slight sense of victory. A ritual successfully completed, my status renewed for a little while. Look at that, I already have to get going. Tea always gets the timing right.

The elderly lady approaches at my wave and I pay her, even tipping her a little bit, something I wouldn’t call a habit. I don’t even know why I am doing it, but it happens and she grins at me thankfully, wishing me a nice day in her Bernese dialect. I smile back and wish her the same. As she waddles off, I take one last look over to the young woman who is still sitting there, now resting her cheek on the other hand, so that I can still see the part of her face showing in my direction. In the exact same moment that I look over, a car passes by the café. Its headlights seem to be turned on in order to cut through the grey, if not particularly dark day. For an instant, the interior of the little establishment is illuminated and right then, I see a shining, silver line reflecting from the pretty face’s right cheek. The kind of line a tear would draw from the eye to the corner of the mouth.

For a second I feel the sense of obligation coming up again, but it’s too late now. I take my hat and coat. I won’t miss that train again. I step out of the café and start walking towards the station at a brisk pace. My thoughts are fairly repetitive at this point, and quite articulate, if a little vulgar. I’m very sorry that someone is sad this morning. It sucks being sad, I know that. I wish I could have helped – I reach the track, the train is just arriving. Being sad sucks and being alone sucks. I get on the train and the door closes behind me with a silly thump. Something about that woman being sad seems wrong. Such a pretty face shouldn’t have tears on it. Although that somehow made it even prettier. The carriages slowly start moving towards Zurich – I should have offered help, but it was too late…


2 responses to “Too Late

  1. Deep and touching, a pleasure to read.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s